Power of an Hour

Two hands keeping warm, holding a hot cup of tea or coffee

My neighbor is a quiet grad student. She has lived in the row house next to us for… gosh knows how long. A couple of years likely. In our row of four homes, us end units have been here a long while (the other end family has been here at least a decade longer than us, and we moved here in 2001), but the middle units have changed more frequently and it’s hard to keep track how long someone has been in residence. Anyway, she seems perfectly lovely but I realized that while I could recognize her whizzing down the main street on her bike and knew where she went to school, I didn’t even know her name.

Or that she had a cat.

Until last week when she came to my door the day before New Year’s Eve desperate. She was to attend a conference and couldn’t find a single kennel or petsitter who was available for her kitty Sylvia. Since I am next door, would it be too much trouble to check in on her? Of course I said yes. She invited me and Emerson over and it was the first time I saw the interior of the home I have been connected to for over a decade. We met Sylvia, she showed me where the food was, the litter box. She handed me a key and dashed off for her plane.

I decided it would be a great learning experience for Emerson, who keeps saying she wants a cat. I thought she and I could go over a few times a day, play with the cat, have Emerson watch me clean the litter box and she could refill the food and water bowls. She does come occasionally, but it’s mainly teaching her how playing with Sylvia is different from a dog (slower, calmer, the cat is in charge you can’t make her chase a string).

Instead I’ve been using this opportunity to work on this here blog. I get up early in the morning, make a cup of coffee, grab my laptop and head next door. My WiFi reaches through the connecting wall. I greet Sylvia, take care of her food and litter box, we have some play/cuddle time and then I open up my laptop and go through my email and do some blog admin stuff for a half hour. At this hour my house is silent, but it’s not free of distractions. I’ll turn on the TV, I’ll do some laundry, I’ll fill the dishwasher and next thing I know I’m running late for work and haven’t yet taken my shower. But here, there’s no distractions except for an adorable brown tabby with the cutest little face who purrs louder than any other cat I’ve met and likes to climb on me and knead my chest while I sit on the couch with the computer in my lap. And while I may be typing this with my head cocked to the side in an attempt to see the screen between ears and whiskers this little bit of time has been great for getting me organized and centered. It has helped me see the distractions and encourages me to create a quiet space free of them for a short moment each morning.

It’s impossible to do everything, but we women sure try our hardest to accomplish it all. We wake up early, go to bed late, and are experts in multitasking to achieve in one day what should take a week. We’re expected to have successful jobs, intelligent and polite children, beautiful homes, beautiful bodies, clean and stylish clothes, be active in our communities and charitable organizations, all while having great sex with our partners and engaging conversation at social affairs. Oh, and then we need to make sure it’s all captured perfectly (or at least in an entertaining manner) on social media. I’m terribly lucky to have a bomb-ass husband who is very involved in Emerson’s education and upbringing and keeps this house beautiful and sound, but I still get frazzled and feel disconnected from overload. Having this very quiet alone start to the morning has really helped ground me and I will continue such a ritual after Sylvia's mommy returns.

We don’t all have a neighbor away on vacation to offer us a place to escape for an hour each morning, but I encourage you to find a way to steal an hour a day for just you. Take a walk in your neighborhood bundled up in a coat and boots while it’s still dark. Tell the family that the bedroom is off limits for one hour every evening and set up camp in the corner of the room with a candle and the comforter folded up into a cushion and meditate. Take an unnecessary closet in your home, remove the doors and turn it into an office nook to give you a dedicated space to write, to sew, to do your thing. Lock yourself in a room and do a yoga video – there’s plenty on YouTube and OnDemand cable that are free. Take up journaling, spending some time each morning with a composition notebook and your mug of tea or coffee. Taking time for yourself renews you, recharges you, and makes you a better employee, creative, caregiver, parent, partner, and friend. You should always put the oxygen mask on yourself before you assist another; help yourself get centered so you can go out into the world and be that badass multitasking superwoman!

15 Comments

  1. January 10, 2015 / 2:18 pm

    Oh my goodness, I so need this post right now! I had a super-full on ‘holiday’ with illness and far too much of my in-laws and I went back to work already overloaded. Facing my inbox, To Do list and the tricky personality situations just about got me to breaking point. I MUST get better at prioritising my time off.

    PS – your neighbour’s cat sounds lovely. I’m a super-big cat fan.

  2. Curvy CEO
    January 10, 2015 / 10:41 am

    I appreciate this post. I’m at the end of my first week back at work and I must admit that I’m a little depressed. I tried really hard to get adequate sleep and to not allow distractions to get in the way of my self-care, but I still found myself dragging and running ragged by the end of the week. Maybe it’s because it’s just hard getting back into the swing of thing after two weeks off…*sigh* I honestly don’t know how you do it all, hon.

    • janejetson
      January 13, 2015 / 10:29 pm

      Going back to work is tiring. I was also fatigued the first week of school or any big change. Give yourself time to get back into the swing of things. I have found it is better to schedule a return date for midweek. The first week can be very long and it helps to shorten it if possible.

  3. Cathryn
    January 8, 2015 / 7:36 pm

    Very well said! I am trying to find time for just me that remains steady; I have a very erratic schedule and it is impossible for me to establish a routine. This year I am trying something new: I have made a list of all my obligations so I can take an objective look at all things I have swirling around my head all the time that I feel personally responsible for. I am hoping that this list will help me to get a better idea of the pressure I put on myself. I have put myself/swimming on the list (for the very first time as a responsibility) and everytime I see swimming, I look for the time to squeeze it in. I started swimming last fall per my chiropractor and I love it! It is so different from all my other activities and it makes for a great time out (no multitasking while you are swimming).
    Great reader comments sharing how other people handle taking time for themselves. I also had parents who did not take time for themselves and so did not learn how to do it growing up.

  4. cowstarse
    January 8, 2015 / 7:16 pm

    Amazing. I fall in to this trap so often of trying to be and do everything. I often multitask and dont take time for myself, I beat myself up for not having the best outfit on or for not having a clean picture perfect house. I might try waking up early and simply be still with my coffee. It sounds like a great idea.

  5. January 8, 2015 / 3:54 pm

    I know this isn’t specifically about cats, but I’ve found that my cats (all of them, throughout my life) have taught me to slow down & take a moment to disconnect. There have been times when I sadly treated my cats, my husband, my friends, everyone in my life like yet another chore, a checkbox, an obligation. But as my (previous) two cats each got older, I realized or re-realized, whoa, they need me, & I need them, & I need a moment to chill out. Now we have three kittens, & they also are a fantastic reminder to take time out of each day & just be in the moment. Relax, play, laugh, cuddle, recharge.

    Pets are ideal for this because they ask so little yet give so much in return. But stopping in the garden, seeing a beautiful view, or doing something with nature; much like pets, getting a little non-human time is amazing somehow. Or meditation, yoga, journaling, something alone &, as you say, centering, just an hour or half-hour, is really worthwhile.

  6. bubu2
    January 8, 2015 / 2:31 pm

    Beautifully said – I feel I could have written this myself, it all rang so true! We have a small study (former nursery) in our house which I have turned into double duty as my mediation room — lots of plants, candles, a little Buddha statue and a big reading chair. I make a commitment to go in there 3 nights a week after the kids go to bed to meditate and do some journaling. It does me a world of good – I don’t always realize how much good until I DON’T do it for a while and realize how addled my brain and frazzled my nerves have become. Deep breaths, followed by an unpacking of the brain contents helps keep me stay centered and at peace. As you said, you need to take care of yourself first. (It also helps that we have a lovely big old orange tabby ourselves who likes to wander in and be petted from time to time).

  7. AD
    January 8, 2015 / 1:44 pm

    I loved reading that. I’m still on the fence about kids, but I cringe when moms talk about how they have no time for themselves or they never have couple time as though it’s a badge of honor. I’m not pretending to know how hard it must be to carve out that time, but the reason I cringe is that that was my parents. I never had a sitter, they never went on dates or vacations just the two of them, never had a night each to themselves with friends–never. And as awesome as my parents were to me, their bad marriage has affected me my entire life, in ways I couldn’t even see until I started therapy.

    I guess my point is, taking care of yourself and of your marriage IS taking care of your children. In ways you may not even realize. When parents say they don’t have any time whatsoever to themselves, it makes me scared to have a kid at all, given my experience.

    • January 8, 2015 / 2:02 pm

      My parents were similar, I never had a babysitter until I was at least 8 and they were very few and far between. They always figured they’d travel and have fun after we moved out, but my dad got ill when I was in high school and passed away when my sister and I were in college. It taught me to not wait for the future, have a balance of then and now. We do an overnight babysitter once a month (less with the arm, but now that I’m functioning again so is Date Night) and we try to get away and do things apart to maintain our individuality. When we thought about starting a family we both swore we would not be defined as X’s Mommy or Y’s Daddy and that when we got together with other adults we’d have more to talk about than our children. It takes a lot of planning to maintain a strong loving relationship and an identity when you are responsible for the health, happiness, and upbringing of others but it is possible. And like your experience, it is necessary for the health and happiness not just of the parents but their children too. Thanks for sharing your story, AD. <3

  8. Sonia
    January 8, 2015 / 10:06 am

    Great advice that I plan to heed and excellent article, thank you.

  9. Monica H
    January 8, 2015 / 9:35 am

    Amen! I’m a working mom of a toddler, in the midst of my husband’s busy travel season and knee-deep in the process of buying our first home. Whew. Your post was just what I needed to read this morning – thank you.

    • January 8, 2015 / 10:08 am

      Glad you found it helpful! You are best for your family when you care for yourself. Hang in there! 🙂

  10. Linda B
    January 8, 2015 / 9:31 am

    So well said! And, I have to note that my two cats have been excellent support as I take my daily early morning time to myself. I couldn’t function without this time!

    • January 8, 2015 / 10:07 am

      Cats really do lower the blood pressure and they force you to slow down and focus (on them, but only when they want you to! 🙂 )

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